I had no idea what to expect when I came to my first Youth Photography Curatorial Committee meeting at Wide Angle Youth Media. I had spent the car ride trying to think of everything I knew about photography, afraid that I would be clueless when it came to technical training and media production. What is it called when a picture is over-exposed? Palms sweating, I found my way to the Wide Angle offices and was startled by the scene there. Lounging around computers was a group of other students. They smiled and pulled up a chair for me and I forgot about my fear of not fitting in.
We each introduced ourselves and shared what we hoped to achieve at Wide Angle. I explained that I hoped to learn more about Baltimore. While I lived in Baltimore City, I had never explored it. My understanding and knowledge was embarrassingly limited. To my surprise, other students agreed with me. They said they also felt out-of-touch with Baltimore, caught up in stereotypes and hardly ever traversing the streets of the city we all called home. We had a lot to learn.
I was familiar with the Baltimore stereotypes. I was presented with a view of Baltimore as dangerous and the youth as delinquents, perpetrators of mischief. Though I had never had reason to believe these notions, I’d also never had reason not to. However, my time with the committee completely changed my views. I was presented with pictures of children studying, children playing, children having fun. At times I came across photos that portrayed sadder instances – children looking out windows, children alone. Yet nowhere was there any indication of violence, of drugs, of anything Baltimore youth are associated with. Yes, some of the children in these images knew suffering. But each image spoke of resilience, a desire to escape that world and make a new one for themselves. There was a drive and a determination in the photos that I had never seen before.
These were more than just images. Even within the tiny computer lab at Wide Angle, these images provoked conversation and friendly debate amid the committee members. We discussed the thoughts they raised, the issues they portrayed, and the emotions they activated within us. Our job was to explore the power of each photo and find a way to intensify it so that the message could be clearer and more impactful than ever.
We did this by curating a show – The Youth Traveling Photograph Exhibit – sorting images into categories to be displayed and spark conversation. We grouped photos which made us think of change, race, and emotion. We matched groups with statistics or statements from the photographers. We wanted to connect numerous messages, to create something larger than the original photo. A storyline, a series, different experiences that share a common theme and incorporate the same tool – photography.
I’m now working as an intern with Wide Angle, helping to publicize their events. So far it has been my experience with the committee that helped me truly understand Baltimore the most. I have a new, positive understanding of Baltimore youth and, through my work at Wide Angle, I hope that I am able to share this view with the Baltimore community. We are more than a statistic, a stereotype, or even a picture captured by the flash of a camera. But if we can look at those things together, maybe we can create a new, improved image of Baltimore’s young people.
I hope these images will be as inspirational to you as they are to me. On display throughout the month of May at Golden West Cafe, these pictures will also travel throughout Baltimore City this spring and summer. You can join us at our Exhibit Closing on May 28 from 5-7 pm to learn more. I hope to see you there!
Emelia Lehmann is a member of the Youth Photography Traveling Exhibit Curatorial Committee, and a senior student intern from The Park School.